Does a 4-Day Week Mean Lower Reading Scores?

Tim Shanahan

Teacher question:

There is much interest in many states to reduce the number of student contact days.  The typical 180 student contact days are being questioned and often replaced with fewer instructional days that are often only a few minutes longer.  Is there any research on four-day weeks versus the typical 180 school day calendar?

Shanahan responds:

Amount of instruction is an important variable in academic achievement. Usually, if we increase the amount of teaching by a reasonable amount, we tend to see increases in learning. From eyeballing the research studies, I’d estimate that 20-30 hours more reading instruction per year, tends to lead to more learning.

Increasing amount of instruction can raise achievement, so reducing instruction would likely have an analogous learning reduction.

Time increases don’t always pay off, however.

For instance, teachers may not use the added time for teaching. I’ve seen that with some afterschool programs. By the time there has been a bathroom break, a snack, and some recreation, the extra hour turns out to be more like an extra 15 minutes and that isn’t necessarily devoted to potentially effective teaching either.

Time – amount of instruction – is one of the “big three” when it comes to stimulating learning, but it only leads to increased learning if something worthwhile is being taught (curriculum) and when the teaching is sufficiently sound (quality).

It is difficult to sort out exactly how much time is lost with the four-day week since districts usually put some back by lengthening school day. But it’s hard to see how days can be lengthened sufficiently to make up for what would be about a 6-hour weekly loss in many districts.

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